Saturday, April 28, 2001

Auto Racing Insider

Big CART names revive Indy 500

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Indianapolis 500 is looking like the old Indy 500 again. Or at least since 1995, the year before the nasty CART-IRL split.

        Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk are all entered in the 2001 race. A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi all will be in the pits.

        It's not quite the same, as most CART teams still won't be there. But the return last year of Ganassi's CART team, including race winner Juan Montoya, was the first thaw in the open-wheel war.

        CART star Andretti is back to drive for the first time since '95. Penske, the best-known CART owner, is also back for the first time in six years. Penske will try to add to his 10 Indy team victories, while Andretti seeks to match famous father Mario's one Indy 500 win.

        Michael Andretti, 38, still runs full time on the CART circuit. He tested at Indy last week for the first time since 1995.

        Michael, like his father, has had plenty of bad fortune at Indy. He was the race leader in five of his 11 Indy 500s but never won.

        “I still feel like I have a little unfinished business here,” Andretti told reporters at Indy. “Would I be going through all this work if I'd won this race in the past? Probably not. But something's driving me.”

        Fellow CART drivers such as Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, who drive for Penske, also will be at Indy. Mears, a four-time Indy 500 winner, will be there as an adviser to Penske.

        Some of the old gang never left, such as Foyt (IRL team owner) and Al Unser Sr. (IRL driving coach).

        If nothing else, there will be photo ops aplenty this year.

        The Indy 500 used to hold U.S. sports fans spellbound on Memorial Day weekend. It was one of the toughest sporting tickets to get, along with The Masters golf tournament and Final Four college basketball tournament.

        Interest started to slip even before the NASCAR boom of the 1990s. TV ratings are off since the IRL-CART split. But every year, a sellout crowd of more than 300,000 still attends the race.

        So, somebody must still be interested.

        INDY DATES: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens May 6 for Indy 500 practice. Pole day is May12. The race is May 27 at noon EDT.

        LOCAL SCENE: Darrell Lanigan, a 30-year-old Boone County grad, has gotten sponsorship from General Electric for a five-race ARCA deal. Lanigan will run in two ARCA races at Kentucky Speedway, two in Charlotte and one in Atlanta.

        Lanigan, who operates out of a spiffy race shop on U.S. 42 in Union, has raced in the NASCAR Busch Series and is a veteran of the local dirt tracks. He won the $5,000, 50-lap feature at Florence Speedway last weekend.

        One of Lanigan's ARCA cars is a former Winston Cup car, a Ford Taurus that belonged to Ricky Rudd.

        • The Doran-Lista race team, operated by Delhi native Kevin Doran, finished fourth in last week's Grand American Road Racing event at Phoenix, the Sun Automotive 200. The Doran drivers were Didier Theys and Fredy Leinhard.

        • Several local residents are scheduled to compete on Kentucky Speedway's opening night (May 11) in the ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck race.

        John Witham, Jeff Speakman, and Darren Jones are among locals who have planned to enter the race. Witham finished third and Speakman was 15th in last year's ARCA Trucks points race.

        • Kentucky Speedway has sold more than 50,000 tickets for its Busch race June16. In case you missed it, the Speedway announced last week that Winston Cup star Kevin Harvick will drive in the Busch race here. Harvick, who replaced the late Dale Earnhardt in Winston Cup, also drives for Richard Childress in the Busch series.



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